By Patrick Wolf
This month’s installment of Pathfinder features a new story in an original setting with a fresh set of villains. Unfortunately, that’s about the most innovation you’ll get out of this largely uninspired issue. Prepare for an ordinary narrative with a bunch of stock characters in what could have been an epic quest, but instead opted to be a wannabe detective story.
Returning to the once thriving kingdom of Korvosa, Seoni and her sword-wielding friends are investigating a distress letter sent by her brother, Tiro. However, when the guild arrives at the brother’s house, they discover that not only has his home has been ransacked, but also he’s gone missing. To make matters worse, the crew learns that Tiro may be the victim of a serial killer who is currently singling-out sorcerers—sorcerers with the same ethnicity as Seoni. Teaming up with a detective-for-hire and his mysterious partner, Seoni and her friends head out on a quest to find Tiro and hopefully stop the killer before he strikes again.
I want to start by focusing on what’s good about this comic. To begin with, the artwork is fantastic: it’s clear, lively, and well-crafted. Silva’s illustrations really make the characters look badass, while Remalante’s colors do an excellent job of distinguishing them without distracting from the action. The action scenes are also well done: they’re crisp, fluid, and easy to follow. At times I feel like I’m watching a movie rather than reading a comic. Regrettably, these are the only elements worth applauding.
Don’t get me wrong, Pathfinder isn’t bad. It’s just horribly, horribly mundane. The story features a bunch of stock characters engaging in an ordinary narrative with the same old stakes. Everything about this series screams formulaic. We’ve got the serious cleric, the reckless hero, the cool lover-of-war, the wisecracking detective, and the bad guy who could defeat the heroes, but instead let's the wimpy foot soldiers ‘take care of them’ (spoiler: the wimpy foot-soldiers lose).
But that’s not even the worst of it. What really diminishes Pathfinder is the asymmetry between genre and story. On the one hand, we’re brought into this imaginative world with spectacular beasts, cool costumes, and breathtaking dungeons (think Lord of the Rings, Willow, and Berserk). On the other hand, the plot is nothing more than an ordinary detective story jazzed-up in fancy gear. I mean, why have the traditional guild with the magical powers and the medievalesque universe if you’re not going to take advantage of the epic quests that usually go with these kinds of stories? Don’t get me wrong, I like narratives that break rules and mix genres; I just don’t like ones that do this for no particular reason.
Another issue I have with Pathfinder is how amateurish the heroes seem. This is especially strange given that the story isn’t a comedy. To give some examples: the heroes nearly get beaten every time they fight ordinary foot soldiers; they continuously get snuck-up on (first by foot soldiers, then by a detective, then by a giant monster, and finally by foot-soldiers again); they obey the laws of an unjust state; and they nearly lose every fight they’re in (the foot soldiers get what they want, the monster gets away, and the Signifier comes and goes as she pleases). In fact, the heroes are so inadequate that at one point one of the detectives even makes note of this: “Where did you find these amateurs?”
I could go on by pointing out even more problems, like how detective Quinn continuously stresses that the heroes were grotesquely ‘lied to’ when the reality is they were told the truth minus one slight detail. But I think I’ve said enough. Pathfinder isn’t a bad story; it’s just painfully mediocre. If you’re picking up a copy for your kids, it’s totally fine, I’m sure they’ll love it. For the comic aficionado, however, there’s nothing new here.
Pathfinder: Runescars # 1
Writer: F. Wesley Schneider
Artist: Ediano Silva
Colorist: Omi Remalante
Letterer: Tom Napolitano